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Housing First donations pour in
Private sector steps up to fight homelessness in Yellowknife

Jessica Davey-Quantick
Northern News Services
Thursday, September 30, 2016

Housing First's new sea can, installed on 50 Street, runneth over with donations after a fundraising push last weekend, but organizers of the event say they're still missing some of the big ticket items.

NNSL photo/graphic

Executive director of Yellowknife Women's Society Bree Denning, left, and volunteer Thomas Harvey barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs for people attending the society's furniture drive on Saturday. - Robin Grant/NNSL photo

"We got lots of stuff," said Yellowknife Women's Society executive director Bree Denning. "We're still going to need probably some couches and some mattresses and dressers, those are some of the things that are really lacking for us right now."

She estimates around 40 to 50 people made donations of household items, including approximately $500 in cash. But Housing First did get a big boost thanks to a donation of furniture and other household goods from Northview Apartment REIT.

The company is donating a variety of things, including shelves, tables, chairs and couches, as well as smaller items like cookware and linens.

"These are things that are generally left when people move out," said Northview Apartment REIT regional manager Colleen Wellborn. Northview files a record of things left behind in accordance with the NWT Tenancy Act, but Wellborn says after three months, such items are considered abandoned property.

"So rather than throw them away ... we're able to donate it," she said. "We have furniture. They need furniture. It seemed like a very good match."

They also have staff available to help move items, including heavy and cumbersome pieces, to the apartments.

"In our company we move things quite frequently," said Wellborn. "That'll take us an afternoon, right - not a big deal."

Also, thanks to another local business, Housing First will also have its own wheels. Yellowknife Motors is donating the use of a GM truck for two years to the group.

"We were approached by the committee and my first question was, 'Well what do you need?'" said Yellowknife Motors general sales manager Aaron Wall. "They're always constantly moving items. They're driving people in the program, they're driving them around, they're driving them to meetings, to doctor appointments, to job interviews, whatever it may be. They needed a vehicle, but furthermore they needed a truck to move articles of furniture from place to place. There's lots of moving going on, lots of donations that wouldn't suffice with a simple car."

Housing First already received their sea can courtesy of the Stanton Foundation. The Yellowknife Women's Society was selected by the city to assess individuals for the program, which will place four people in homes by the end of October, and up to 20 people by 2019.

The idea of the program runs counter to previous initiatives, which placed housing readiness first - the expectation was that if individuals dealt with substance abuse, mental health and lifestyle problems first, housing would follow.

Housing First works in reverse, with the idea that once people are housed, they'll be able to make changes in a stable environment. Medicine Hat was the first Canadian city to launch a Housing First program in 2009.

Five years later, in their 2014 progress report, the program had housed 885 formerly homeless people, including 283 children, and found that 73 per cent of participants successfully completed the program, with 63 per cent of those now living in market housing.

The city also saw a 45 per cent drop in shelter use since 2009. Saskatoon launched their own version in April 2014, and Saskatoon's Housing First program estimates that in the first six months, the program saved $668,000 that would otherwise have gone to hospital visits, ambulance, police services, and emergency shelters.

In a five-year study from 2014, The Mental Health Commission of Canada found that for every $10 invested in Housing First Services, there was an average reduction of costs of other services of $9.60 for high-needs participants and $3.42 for moderate needs participants.

The four apartments have yet to be selected. Part of Housing First's mandate is client choice, so Denning said participants will be viewing apartments to select which one will best suit their needs. Wellborn said regardless of where the apartments are eventually rented, Northview will keep donating.

"We're completely on board," she said. "It doesn't matter - we're happy to move it to wherever it needs to go."

The point, according to both Wellborn and Wall, is to tackle a community problem.

"Everybody who works here, these are people that have been in Yellowknife for 10, 20, 30 years, all their life, right?" said Wall. "We feel like we're doing good for the North."

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